As flames engulfed Eastbourne Pier this July all Glenda Melluish could do was sit back and watch, hoping it wouldn’t reach the Glass Studio – the place on which her livelihood has depended for more than 20 years.
“It was all very calm at first, we all thought it was a false alarm, but then we saw the pier staff moving everybody off and we realised it must be for real,” she told us.
“As we walked past the arcade we couldn’t see much, just a bit of smoke, all contained within the wall cavity. We all thought we’d be back to work in a while. But then the fire service came to remove the paneling and that’s when we started seeing the flames and realised – this is bad.”
The Glass Studio was founded 46 years ago on Grove Road – a small street lined with boutique shops and cafes just outside Eastbourne town centre.
“The owners back then wanted to be more in the centre things,” Glenda continued. “They wanted to be part of the tourist world, so they moved the business to a shack on the pier.”
For 144 years, locals and tourists alike have enjoyed strolling past the gift shops, ice cream stands and saloons that line the pier’s Victorian boardwalk. The Glass Studio in particular has long been a popular attraction, inviting visitors in to see the glass blowing in action. Three years ago, the studio moved premises again – but this time to the shop on the opposite side of the pier.
When the fire broke out on a Wednesday afternoon in July, the whole town was in shock. It seemed that everybody had a fond memory of being on the pier – whether it was playing on the penny machines as a child, or dancing the night away in Atlantis nightclub as a teenager.
But it was the owners of the businesses on the pier who got the biggest shock of all.
“We didn’t think it would take hold as much as it did,” Glenda said. “When the flames burst out of the dome, we suddenly knew there was no going back.
“It was lucky I took my car keys with me or I would have been stuck. Other people had left their phones, keys, money in there. All our stock was in there.”
A total of 80 firefighters risked their lives to battle the blaze and prevent it from destroying the entirety of the Grade II listed structure. Unlike some of its neighbouring shops, the Glass Studio escaped the flames. A few days later, the structure of the pier was deemed safe enough for the business owners to retrieve their stock.
“Some people were quite frightened going back on the pier, but it didn’t bother me. Luckily I’m not afraid of heights!” Glenda added.
“We’re now storing our glass making equipment in a fish and chip shop as temporary storage. The Arndale Centre offered us a shop there but by the time that would be ready, the pier would be rebuilt. We were promised a market stall for Airbourne but there is nothing that would be suitable for glassblowing – it just wouldn’t work. Local authorities have been trying to help us but their suggestions are not at all practical.
“We have got nothing to live on, no money. At the moment we just want to get back in time for Airbourne.”
Fortunately, since this interview took place The Glass Studio did manage to find a suitable premises on the seafront, enabling them to sell their glass ornaments to the huge crowds at Airbourne, with thanks to Eastbourne Council and Tourism Board. Glenda has also informed us that the council will be building a marquee for all businesses affected by the pier fire.
“The fire has joined the community together because everyone is talking amongst themselves about it,” Glenda added. “It is the centre of talk in the town. It might all come out good in the end. Things are certainly looking up for us.”
Find out more about The Glass Studio